Thor Muller on Planned Serendipity

Notes from Thor Muller's talk at Webvisions 2012 (#wvpdx)


Get Lucky: The Business of Planned Serendipity
Thor Muller
  • A lot of success is luck.
  • But how can we manufacture luck? Can we create chance encounters?
  • There’s nothing random about luck.
  • GetSatisfaction
    • Started with a joke. (So many great scientific breakthroughs came from play.)
    • We could start a shwag of the month club. And we did, and within two months had 2,000 subscribers. But fulfillment is hard, and customer service is even harder. Hundreds of emails every day.
    • But we discovered that customers would repost our answers to them, and would ask questions on the web.
    • So founded GetSatisfaction. Now have 65,000 paid customers.
  • Serendipity = chance + creativity
  • Recent research shows that we can do more/different to enable creativity in ourselves. We can read the owner’s manual for our minds.
  • But... we’re wired to avoid risk and change. We want predictibility.
  • So how do we let in unpredictability and predictability at the same time?
  • The answer is planned serendipity
  • http://bit.ly/liHRUy
  • Jane’s Story
  • Preparation
    • “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
    • Obsessive curiosity. Going deep. Following curiosity further than is normal.
    • Jane’s first obsession was sculpture
    • Notice the anomalies. The things that don’t fit. (Most business people look for the similarities.) Arresting the exception
    • Forget what you know to be true. This is important to be able to make big leaps. Otherwise beliefs limit you. 
    • Jane went to school
      • played with materials. made something out of silicon and wood chips. it amused her that it was a bouncing wooden ball. 
      • When we think concretely, it’s about things very near to us in time, space, relationships.
      • When we think abstractly, we’re able to connect things beyond categories, because we’re seeing things from a much higher level perspective.
      • when Jane went into her materials workshop, she came in with a sculptor's mentality. 
    • Structures you can use to create this: 20% time
  • Motion
    • To stir the pot. Run into new ideas and new people. Open space.
    • taking the materials workshop helped jane run into new ideas and new people.
    • computer models show that diversity helps solve complex problems.
      • when people are the same, and they tackle the problem, they all get stuck in the same place.
      • when people are very different, and they tackle a problem, they get stuck in different places.
      • the problem with the workplace is that we stick everyone into cubicles, so they can’t talk.
    • Structures to create: pot-stirring events and open space
  • Commitment
    • To have an overriding purpose. To stick to that purpose. 
      • Which implies: knowing what to say ‘no’ to.
    • Overly broad mission statements don’t help us unless they tell us what to say ‘no’ to.
    • Decision fatigue: the more decisions we make, the worse decisions we make. the decisions become arbitrary.
    • By knowing what to say no to automatically, we have more willpower left for the decisions that do matter.
    • Structure to create: The automatic No-list
  • Attraction
    • Jane talked to everyone about: scientists, media people, fellow students. 
    • Project your sense of purpose out into the world.
    • It changes what the world sees as possible.
    • And it gives people a place to come if they care.
    • For Jane, it brought people in who could contribute their skills.
    • Will to Meaning
    • Interviewed a group of people to assess first the sense of purpose of the people. then asked the people to do a 10 minute introduction of themselves. Then showed the videos to other people and asked viewers to rate the attractiveness of the speakers. Those people who had a higher sense of purpose were rated as vaster more attractive across the board.
  • Divergence
    • Branching strategy
    • Jane got a 35,000 pound grant. but the material was imperfect. that wasn’t enough money to do the necessary rounds of testing. the only way she could do it was to do the research and testing herself. she spent two years and taught herself materials science on the fly to perfect the material.
  • The Hidden Bias Against Creativity
    • Inserting uncertainty into a situation caused people to rank creative ideas in a negative way or with negative connotations. (the example given was a study in which some participations were told they would be entered into a lottery to win a prize. this uncertainty caused negative responses.)
  • Permeability:
    • Customer Community
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